Second Sydney Harbour Rail Crossing

More NSW Government Transport Chaos

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Another favourite plaything of the two major parties at a state and federal level is public transport and a great example is the debacle of the debate surrounding the second Sydney harbour rail crossing. There are extreme ideological differences between the approaches taken by either side of the political coin when it comes to funding roads vs rail.  Labor funds and supports public transport, albeit begrudgingly when there is a state Liberal government as we saw in the run-up to the 2013 federal election.  Liberals support roads, roads, roads, for example with Abbott scrapping federal funding for the Melbourne cross city rail project and diverting funds to the new toll road tunnel project.  Barnett, the liberal premier of WA has scaled back the implementation of the hugely successful rail and light rail projects in Perth and again diverted money to roads.  The history of many transport projects is mired by this ideological division, and in the case where there should be no disagreement – say a new airport for Sydney – somehow becomes a political wedge driven down from federal through to state and even down to council level.  Inaction is costing our economy due to capacity constraints, not only in freight, but also simply in terms of the wasted hours spent each day commuting through our cities.

Reading the Wikipedia page for transport plans announced for Sydney incites despair as your realise the amounts of time and taxpayers money wasted over generations with very little to show for it other than inaction.  When a change of government occurs at a state or federal level, you immediately see the incoming government’s attitudes on display – new transport plans are announced and much rubbishing of the previous transport plan takes place.  No-one is clear who is responsible for delivery of infrastructure. NSW Labor managed to be in office so long they ended up rubbishing their own prior plans.  Here are some of the plans from the last 25 years – for rail alone:

  • MetroWest, 1990
  • Action for Transport, 2010
  • Action for Transport, 1998
  • Bondi Beach railway, 1996
  • Christie proposals, 2002
  • Western FastRail
  • Metro rail expansion programme, 2005 including:
    • Parramatta rail link
    • North west rail link
    • South west rail link
    • CBD rail link
  • Metro, 2008-2031 Sydney Transport Blueprint, 2009
  • Metropolitan Transport Plan: Connecting the City of Cities, 2010
  • NSW Transport Masterplan, 2012

This is another exemplar of how having these two ideological blocs means that nothing ultimately gets done because no sensible middle ground is ever found.

Much of the funding for these large scale infrastructure projects needs to come from the federal government via Infrastructure Australia (IA).  Infamously the previous state Labor government failed to secure funding from IA because the plans were written on the back of an envelope.  If you set aside laziness or incompetence for a second, the success or failure of state based infrastructure projects can rest on which combination of parties is in power at the federal and state level.  The display between Kevin Rudd and Barry O’Farrel during the 2013 federal campaign, or the backlash from state based education ministers against their federal counterpart, or the obstinate blocking of Gonski by the Liberal Queensland and Western Australian premiers against the interests of the community are all examples.  Probably the most telling display from Abbott was his decision to withdraw federal funding from all state based rail infrastructure projects, with the money instead being diverted to roads, for example leaving Melbourne’s much needed cross city rail tunnel in jeopardy.   Ideology should not be able to influence public policy in this way – the pendulum on all policy fronts needs to halted dead in the middle so long term projects can be properly planned, agreed upon by many parties and built without obfuscation.

A Second Sydney Harbour Rail Crossing

There has been much talk in Sydney over the years, and you can see these on display in the transport plans, of a second sydney harbour rail crossing.  All transport planners recognise the desperate need for a second crossing, particularly with the north-west rail link increasing numbers on the already overcrowded Chatswood – Wynyard section of the north shore line.  The tunnel option is an unbelievably expensive solution, conservatively estimated at $5bn at the time of Bob Carr’s premiership, so you could probably comfortably double that number to get an idea of the cost being proposed here.  It is staggering.  One quarter the cost of Labour’s much vaunted NBN scheme depending on whose numbers you believe.  And it seems impractical.  The tunnels would reportedly have to go 80m below sea level, meaning they would need to extend from St Leonards through to Central/Redfern and would be one of the steepest grade lines on the network (side-note, the millennium trains can’t use the existing lane cove tunnel due to the steep grade).

The solution is obvious and right before our eyes.  All we need to do is phone or perhaps send a telegram to 1932.  No need for artists’ impressions – this existed until 1958.  Repeat.  We had a second harbour train crossing.

RIP 1932 – 1958, aged 26 years.
Died of political short-sightedness.

The northern approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1930s showing the original arch rail bridge. Second harbour crossing for rail and second platform at Milsons Point shown.

Figure 1 – The northern approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1930s showing the original arch rail bridge. Second harbour crossing for rail and second platform at Milsons Point shown.

 

Figure 2 - The northern approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1950s. The arch bridge has now been removed and the wall buttressed which is easily visible today. The eastern approach was converted to a car ramp for the Cahill Expressway

Figure 2 – The northern approach to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, 1950s. The arch bridge has now been removed and the wall buttressed which is easily visible today. The eastern approach was converted to a car ramp for the Cahill Expressway. The tram line has a kink in it to divert it to the road level – in the original plan the bridge would have met up with the North Shore Line to take 4 lines into North Sydney stationas now been removed and the wall buttressed which is easily visible today. The eastern approach was converted to a car ramp for the Cahill Expressway

A Trail of Destruction

Bradfield planned for these kinds of capacities for the rail network over 100 years ago, but typical of the NSW government, the plan became tangled up in ideological crusades as governments changed.  Much of the plan wasn’t built, but some very key pieces of infrastructure were built and were either used and abandoned or never used at all.  The level of waste and lost opportunity is extraordinary.

Used and abandoned or demolished:

  • Rail arch bridge crossing the roadway on the northern approaches to the bridge (demolished)
  • Second platform for Milson’s point station (paved over)
  • Second set of tracks on eastern side of the bridge (removed)
  • Approaches to Wynyard from the bridge have been covered to service the Cahill Expressway
  • Second set of rail tunnels on the eastern side from the bridge to Wynyard, now used as a hotel car park driveway
  • Platforms 1 and 2 of Wynyard station, currently used as a hotel car park.  These sit side-by-side with platforms 3 and 4 (north shore line).  The platform numbering has never been altered, and you can clearly see where stairwells to these platforms from the lower concourse and main concourse have been boarded over.
  • Stub tunnels leading from Platforms 1 and 2 of Wynyard.  These only extend a short distance south of the station, enough to act as a turnback for trams.

Built but never used:

  • Double flying junction stub tunnels to the north of North Sydney station for Bradfield’s proposed northern beaches line
  • St James inner 2 platforms.  This would have serviced the proposed western line and eastern suburbs line on a course down Oxford Street.  These are clearly visible when in the station and the tunnels are obscured by a false wall.
  • St James stub tunnels – these twin tunnels extend a considerable length from the Oxford Street corner of Hyde Park through to the State Library on Macquarie Street and round towards O’Connell and Bridge Streets.  They have been used but only for sidings or turnbacks.
  • Central Station ghost platforms – when the Eastern Suburbs line was built, an additional 2 platforms were placed above the now current subway platform, along with relatively short stub tunnels.
  • Redfern Station ghost platforms – again, a duplication was put in place when the Eastern Suburbs line was built.  The intermediate level above platforms 24 and 25 was the concourse for these unfinished platforms.

Linking the removal of trams with the demolition of the eastern lines over the harbour bridge was unbelievably short-sighted.   When the Cahill Expressway was in full use this may have been understandable, but for the last 22 years the Sydney harbour tunnel has serviced the eastern side of the CBD very well, and according to RTA/RMS the use of the Cahill has halved since 1992. It’s demolition would only adversely affect those coming from North Sydney to the eastern Sydney, for which a new overpass at Berry Street or vicinity or alternatively a new entry into the cross-city tunnel from north to east could cater for.  Fortunately the eastern tracks and approaches could be reclaimed and restored to it’s intended use with minimal capital expenses in comparison with the rail tunnel alternative.  This would deliver the second Sydney harbour rail crossing in comparatively little time by exploiting the existing and abandoned infrastructure and extending it to the original plan.

 

An O' Class tram emerging from the Wynyard stub tunnels approaching Platform 1

Figure 3 – An ‘O’ Class tram emerging from the Wynyard stub tunnels approaching Platform 1

Figure 4 - The south-east rail approach leading to Wynyard platforms 1 & 2. This is now covered by a car ramp for the Cahill Expressway

Figure 4 – The south-east rail approach leading to Wynyard platforms 1 & 2. This is now covered by a car ramp for the Cahill Expressway

 

Figure 5 - As viewed today - There is a road deck above to bridge the graded track.

Figure 5 – As viewed today – There is a road deck above to bridge the graded track.

Figure 6 - The abandoned Wynyard train tunnels , overhead view

Figure 6 – The abandoned Wynyard train tunnels , overhead view

 

Figure 7 - Stub tunnels for the Northern Beaches line leading out of the north of North Sydney station and have never been used.  They would have led to the Northern Beaches via Northbridge in the Bradfield’s plan.

Figure 7 – Stub tunnels for the Northern Beaches line leading out of the north of North Sydney station and have never been used. They would have led to the Northern Beaches via Northbridge in the Bradfield plan.

 

Figure 8 - St James station - the two unused platforms. You can see the platform edge as a line in the concrete running of into the distance. The tunnels are obscured behind false walls at the end of the frame. Access to the tunnels is via the doors at the end, which are routinely open as the unused platforms are used for cleaners’ storage.

Figure 8 – St James station – the two unused platforms. You can see the platform edge as a line in the concrete running of into the distance. The tunnels are obscured behind false walls at the end of the frame. Access to the tunnels is via the doors at the end, which are routinely open as the unused platforms are used for cleaners’ storage.

 

Figure 9 - St James station - an unused platform visible behind one of those blue doors. Instead of having trains rolling along it, it was decided that mop and bucket storage was a better use for the space

Figure 9 – St James station – an unused platform visible behind one of those blue doors. Instead of having trains rolling along it, it was decided that mop and bucket storage was a better use for the space

 

Figure 10 - Central Station ghost platforms. These are located above the existing Eastern Suburbs subway station underneath Chalmers street. It has never been used.

Figure 10 – Central Station ghost platforms. These are located above the existing Eastern Suburbs subway station underneath Chalmers street. It has never been used.

 

By looking into the past and gaining an appreciation of the vast vision encapsulated in the Bradfield plan while trying to mask the debacle of policy over generations that has followed, you find an ingenious solution to our existing transport headaches.  If only his plans were followed through we would have a vastly superior public transport system in Sydney.  Perhaps if all else fails, trust the guy who had the vision in the first place.  It would seem that his vision extended well beyond his era – it applies today.

Figure 11 - Bradfield's plan

Figure 11 – Bradfield’s plan

Some reasons why this plan should be adopted:

First and foremost – make use of existing infrastructure that has either:

  • Never been used
  • Used but abandoned
  • Used but misused

To reduce cost and speed up delivery of increased capacity for commuters in Sydney.

Why Bradfield’s Plan?

  1. Two new train lines would run through the heart of the CBD, drastically increasing northbound traffic over the bridge, as well as east and western bound trains via St James.
  2. The North Shore line will drastically increase in patronage shortly with the forthcoming opening of the north west rail link that will terminate at Chatswood.  Patrons will then have to change trains to get to the city on already busy services.
  3. Heavy rail with single deck high capacity carriages can move up to 60,000 people per hour per line into the CBD – so with 2x lines 120,000 people/hour, compared with buses over the harbour bridge at a current rate of 20,000 per hour
  4. Wynyard tunnels – the approaches to the bridge on the southern side – are all built but currently have a roadway over them for 1 bus lane to the city and 1 car lane to the Cahill Expressway
  5. Allows for future capacity increases with the completion of the Parramatta – Chatswood line and would open up the opportunity to complete the northern beaches line
  6. Build bus interchanges along all north shore train stations – anyone that has sat in a CBD bound bus in the morning knows that it would be quicker to change to a train than be queued up on an approach to the bridge
  7. Redirect all CBD bound buses to these new bus/train interchanges, particularly the high capacity North Sydney and Milsons Point stations from Mosman and the northern beaches areas
  8. Initially the eastern track could service Milsons Point and North Sydney, doubling capacity.  In medium term, begin tunnelling from North Sydney stub tunnels through to Northern Beaches via Northbridge as per the original intent
  9. Tunnelling from Wynyard stubs on platforms 1 and 2 back through to Town Hall or adjacent area and onto Railway Square and Redfern would solve capacity constraints through the CBD and service the new transport interchange for light rail at Railway Square
  10. Future northern beaches line would drastically reduce the reliance on car and bus travel to the north east, reducing vehicle numbers through Mosman, spit bridge and the harbour bridge
  11. Remove all bus stops and bus lanes around Wynyard as these would be surplus to requirements
  12. York Street would be open to traffic from the bridge, reducing congestion on approach to city
  13. Only one car lane would be lost on the bridge which feeds the now largely redundant Cahill Expressway
  14. The Bradfield Highway ultimately narrows down to 6 lanes, so this would have to occur prior to the restored arch bridge on the north approach, approximately 500m further north than present – this should pose no detrimental effects to traffic
  15. Long term, deal with car capacity issues by duplicating the road deck of the bridge, again part of Bradfield’s original design
  16. The road deck of the Cahill Expressway could be removed, opening up Circular Quay as per Jan Gehl’s vision for the City of Sydney.  In the longer term Circular Quay station could be moved underground to completely transform the harbour and quay.
  17. St James tunnels from the state library to Oxford street are all built, lying abandoned and should be used
  18. St James ‘ghost’ platforms could be utilized almost 100 years after construction
  19. A subway line down Oxford Street, then through to the entertainment district would funnel shoppers up to Paddington, concert and sports fans to the football stadium and SCG and onto UNSW.  Doing so would increase capacity of the network and drastically reduce car and bus traffic during large events that chokes up the journey across the eastern distributor and Anzac parade
  20. Unused central subway ghost platforms, existing above the eastern suburbs line, could service the needs of the Yellow line in Bradfield’s plan
  21. Railway Square subway would be a welcome addition to anyone who has trekked through the Devonshire street tunnel.  This would increase capacity drastically especially given the plans to make this area a transport interchange for light rail and buses.
  22. Although the eastern suburbs line took an alternate path, the Bradfield plan could still be adopted in addition to the existing line
  23. Pitt Street and O’Connell Street stations would reduce demand at Wynyard and Town Hall.  It would also both to reduce interference to the existing operation of the network, but also to reduce the bottleneck that Town Hall station currently is.

 

Figure 12 - Restoring Bradfield's northern approach including steel arch bridge and second platform for Milsons Point station. North Sydney station would run at full capacity with 2 lines direct to the city, with expansion to the North West now and northern beaches in future.

Figure 12 – Restoring Bradfield’s northern approach including steel arch bridge and second platform for Milsons Point station. North Sydney station would run at full capacity with 2 lines direct to the city, with expansion to the North West now and northern beaches in future.

 

Figure 13 - The much shorter arch span in Cleveland, Ohio. This shows a similar construction to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but with a double deck arrangement.  Bradfield envisaged that a second deck could be added to the bridge to cater for future capacity needs.

Figure 13 – The much shorter arch span in Cleveland, Ohio. This shows a similar construction to the Sydney Harbour Bridge, but with a double deck arrangement. Bradfield envisaged that a second deck could be added to the bridge to cater for future capacity needs.

Figure 14 - "Double-decker bridge to break the gridlock" - Sydney Morning Herald, April 30, 2005. http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/Doubledecker-bridge-to-break-the-gridlock/2005/04/29/1114635748181.html

Figure 14 – “Double-decker bridge to break the gridlock” – Sydney Morning Herald, April 30, 2005. http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/Doubledecker-bridge-to-break-the-gridlock/2005/04/29/1114635748181.html

 

 The part of the plan surrounding the restoration of the eastern line of the bridge and the Wynyard tunnels was being “seriously considered” by the state government in 2001 – They even had a project name “Project Star”.  Once again this plan was mulled over, announced, included in a transport “masterplan” and then quietly forgotten.

Underground; upbeat … Iemma and Frank Sartor say the abandoned tunnels in St James station could be used by the metro. Photo: Nick Moir (SMH)

Figure 15 – Then Premier Morris Iemma and planning minister Frank Sartor saying the abandoned tunnels in St James station could be used by the metro in 2008. The plan was scrapped by the incoming O’Farrell government.
Photo: Nick Moir (SMH)

In conclusion it seems that this option is entirely logical, would have the best possible cost benefit analysis applied to it but has not been properly debated, presumably because of the expected backlash of removing one car lane that leads to the largely redundant Cahill expressway in the wake of the harbour tunnel.  Or because of incompetence.  Or both.  If the government is serious about saving money, or spending taxpayers money in the most prudent manner, surely the above should be seriously considered instead of the far more expensive tunnel option, and if rejected, come with a damn good explanation as to why.  A $5-10bn tunnel, or 1 bus and 1 underutilized car lane – these are your options. We certainly shouldn’t be taking the expensive route if it is to be a public private partnership – the infrastructure for a second Sydney harbour rail crossing already exists, has been paid and should be utilized first before resorting to more expensive options.  It is time for the two major parties to balance their ideology against community interests by working together to enact a plan regardless of which party is in power – in short to act in the best interests of the economy and citizens in general.

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Sources

  • Figure 1 – http://www.flickr.com/photos/state-records-nsw/8368179943/in/set-72157606328090593/
  • Figure 2 – http://www.sydneycyclist.com/forum/topics/cbd-cycling-tunnels?commentId=1321712%3AComment%3A194538
  • Figure 3, 7, 8 – http://www.australiaforeveryone.com.au/sydney/nsw_sydney_citytunnels.htm
  • Figure 4, 5, 7 – http://sydneyforeveryone.com.au/city/sydney/unfinished/abandoned-railway-tunnels-on-the-city-circle/
  • Figure 6 – http://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/heritageapp/ViewHeritageItemDetails.aspx?ID=4800281
  • Figure 9 – Author
  • Figure 10 – http://www.trainman.id.au/photos/nsw/tunnels/
  • Figure 12 – Google Images, edited by author
  • Figure 13 – http://bridgestunnels.com/2012/08/14/clevelands-detroit-superior-bridge/
  • Figure 14 – http://www.smh.com.au/news/National/Doubledecker-bridge-to-break-the-gridlock/2005/04/29/1114635748181.html
  • Figure 15 – http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/tunnel-trouble-wont-hurt-metro/2008/03/19/1205602483747.html